Dark, moldy, wet, smelly, scary, bugs, are just a few descriptions people use when talking about their crawl spaces. Truth be told, they are not necessarily wrong. Most crawl spaces in Indiana are exactly that, dark, moldy, wet, smelly, scary, and most have bugs. What's even worse is that most homeowners don't realize that whatever is in your crawl space is also in your living area. Whether its moisture, mold, and yes even bugs, it all can and will make it's way up into the living area of your home. In fact, up to 60% of the air your breath in comes directly from the crawl space below. This is due to what the experts like to call Stack Effect. Stack Effect is the process in which hot air rises up through your house and escapes out the of the upper levels of your house such as your attic. It is then replaced by crawl space air that again moves up through your house, and so on. This air carries with it all the unpleasant issues your crawl space has such as mold, dust mites, and moisture. This is why the health of your crawl space is so important, because the health of your crawl space directly effects the health of the living area above it. Musty and moldy smells in your home are usually a good indicator that something isn't right in your crawl space and could be one of the following crawl space problems.
Standing water in your crawl space is never a good thing. Standing water in your crawl space is usually the biggest and most important issue to get corrected as soon as possible. This is because standing water in your crawl space creates an environment that is ideal for mold growth and wood rot. Standing water in your crawl space creates extremely high moisture levels and the longer they stay high, the more likely your crawl space will experience mold growth which will then lead to wood rot. As we learned above about stack effect, this mold growth will make its way up into the living area of the home. Eventually effecting the health of the everyone in the home. This can also be a reason why you smell the musty, moldy odors in the living area as well. This is especially true is these smells only occur after a rain.
Even a crawl space that is free of standing water can still have high enough moisture levels to create unwanted issues with mold and wood rot. This can happen because of a couple different reasons depending on where you live. In Indiana crawl spaces this happens because block seepage, moisture from the dirt floor, and crawl space vents. Block foundation walls are porous and over time will start to allow moisture and water from the exterior to seep into the crawl space via the block foundation wall. Although most of the time this seepage is not enough to create a standing water issue, it can however be enough to keep moisture levels high enough for mold growth. Moisture is also constantly escaping from your dirt crawl space floor. If your crawl space dirt floor is completely exposed and does not have any type of barrier installed on top of it, this moisture will escape help keep moisture levels high in the crawl space. This moisture will also make its way up via stack effect and can increase the moisture content of the structural wood in your crawl space, leading to mold growth and structural wood rot. Crawl space vents also play a big part in not only allowing but also creating excessive moisture in your crawl space. Crawl space vents in Indiana allow warm, hot, humid air into the crawl space during the summer months, carrying with it all the moisture that is in the air itself. Hot, humid air coming into the crawl space via crawl space vents also create additional moisture in condensation. Water lines and duct lines tend to condensate during the summer months due to the hot, humid outside air coming into the crawl space and hitting these ducts and water lines which are usually cold during the summer months. In a similar way that a soda can will condensate when taken out of the fridge on a hot summer day.
The best way to keep you crawl space dry and free of standing water is by installing a crawl space drainage system and a crawl space sump basin and sump pump. Installed correctly, an interior crawl space drainage system will keep your crawl space dry forever. This would be the first and most important step in maintaining a dry crawl space. Once the standing water issues is resolved, the next step would be a proper crawl space vapor barrier system being installed. If the crawl space does not have a major issue with moisture, then a standard 6mil vapor barrier installed along the crawl space dirt floor would be enough to keep the moisture from the dirt floor contained. Although, many crawl space may need to take the vapor barrier step further and install a complete crawl space encapsulation system. A complete crawl space encapsulation system would completely seal off the crawl space from all areas that cause the crawl space to experience excessive moisture.